Journal

Heavenly Onyx: Interior Design and Gemstones

Heavenly Onyx: Interior Design and Gemstones

Onyx gets its name from the Ancient Greek word for nail. It is said that the goddess Aphrodite was resting on the bank of the River Indus when Eros fired an enchanted arrow at her. The tip of the arrow sheared off her nails and they fell into the water coming to rest on the riverbed where they turned into onyx.

Beautiful Onyx Barrel Garland

Vintage Chunky Onyx Barrel Garland, AU

How does Onyx form in nature?

The geological truth behind onyx’s true formation is no less amazing than this ancient myth. Just as stalactites and stalagmites are formed by the precipitation of minerals from water trickling slowly through caverns and caves, so too does onyx come into being.

A sedimentary rock with a cryptocrystalline construction, onyx acquires its translucence as a result of the size and uniformity of its crystals. It’s one type of the silicate mineral chalcedony, which in itself is a form of microcrystalline quartz.

Agate is also a type of layered chalcedony, but whereas the bands of silicate mineral that make up this gemstone are curved, those that make up onyx run parallel.

Vintage Onyx Table Lamps

Pair of Vintage Onyx Table Lamps, AU

Onyx comes in many forms

In times gone by, all chalcedony was referred to as onyx whatever its colour or banding. Often still considered to be a black stone, onyx comes in every hue. If layered, the different shades that make up its bands are reminiscent of the veining in marble and as such, they lend it a similarly timeless appeal. A light rock, whatever its colour, onyx is soft and fragile and while not as robust as marble, it certainly has a similar translucence and uniqueness.

Vintage Onyx Green Plinths

Pair of Vintage Onyx Green Plinths, AU

Onyx & Interiors

Onyx is a stone that, again, just like marble, sits beautifully in any interior, be that contemporary or traditional. This is partly down to its versatility; whether it embodies discreet neutrality or is a more dynamic, dramatic piece, onyx has the ability to pair sensitively with other materials, both organic and manufactured. 

Vintage Onyx and Brass Floor Lamp

Vintage Onyx and Brass Floor Lamp, AU

Ancient Superstitions - The History of Onyx

The superstitious beliefs of many different peoples have centred upon onyx. In Persia it was thought that the semi-precious stone could relieve epilepsy whereas in Renaissance Europe, a person who held it would become more articulate. The Ancient Romans, believing it would lend them courage in battle, carried onyx amulets engraved with Mars, the god of war. English midwives meanwhile thought it could ease childbirth and in periods of mourning during Victorian times, the stone was used to convey grief and sadness.

For thousands of years therefore, onyx has been used for a multitude of purposes. As a precious gemstone in jewellery or for ornamental carvings, it was highly prized by both the Romans and the Ancient Greeks. Relatively soft and therefore comparatively easy to carve, it was used to make figurines of the gods for burials and ceremonies, and also, for other more utilitarian purposes like bowls and cups.

 

Vintage Onyx Decanter, Glasses and Tray

Vintage Onyx Decanter, Glasses and Tray, AU

Nowadays, as a gemstone, onyx is thought to bring strength and stamina, enhancing both durability and self-control. Said to deflect negativity whether the source is internal or external, it protects against bad luck arising from jealousy. Whether or not this is true, what can certainly be said is that an object hand carved from onyx - with its smooth patina and diaphanous quality - is an asset to any space.

Vintage Onyx Bookends

Pair of Vintage Cream Bookends, AU

Every single piece of onyx in AU’s collection has been handpicked to fit with our ethos of sustainability through re-usability; each object has been hand crafted by artisans and stonemasons rather than on an industrial scale. T

To browse AU’s collection, please click here.

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The Ancient Craft of Carving Marble

The Ancient Craft of Carving Marble

A stone unique and versatile that has been recognised as such by civilisations for thousands of years, marble is adored for its aesthetic qualities as well as its durability and long lasting nature. A metamorphic rock, marble is created deep in the earth’s crust where limestone sediments have crystallised from being under considerable pressure and intense heat.

Carving Marble - Vision & Forethought

Throughout history and until relatively recently, all marble was carved by hand. In many places, it continues to be sculpted using time honoured and traditional techniques.

Though slow and painstaking work, requiring not only large amounts of skill and expertise but invariably also forethought and vision, marble is an ideal material for stone cutters because it is ‘soft’ when first quarried. It is this softness, combined with its chalky white surface, which allows many diverse and contrasting textures to be achieved.

Even better, marble hardens over time; whatever is hewn out of this incredible rock lasts therefore into perpetuity. Marble’s metamorphism continues therefore above ground, even after it has been quarried and not just as a result of the whims of sculptors and stonemasons.

Vintage Ochre Marble Table Lamp

Vintage Ochre Marble Table Lamp, AU

Working with Marble, Time honoured & traditional techniques

Computerised carving machines now exist, but many sculptors and carvers today still use the very same tools employed by their forbearers in ancient times. First, the marble is split using a pitching tool, which is essential a hefty chisel with a broad, blunt edge.

The object to be carved – whether a sculpture or a piece of furniture - is roughed out and then a point chisel struck by a mallet is used to concentrate a blow of force on one particular point, bursting stone away. The point chisel is one of many similar tools. Stonecutters and sculptors will also use round chisels, toothed chisels, claw chisels and flat chisels, as well as angle grinders and hand drills to form and shape their work.

A marble sculptor will also need a selection of hammers, both for hitting the chisels and striking the marble directly. Towards the end of the sculpting process, rasps with fine teeth and rifflers, as well as files and abrasive rubbing stones or sand paper are used to smooth rough edges and refine planes and contours.

Italian Marble Coffee Tables

Set of Three Vintage 1970s Italian Marble Coffee Tables with Octagonal Bases, AU

Natural Marble - Always Unique & Exceptional

When considering all the changes that marble goes through - whether it is changing itself or change wrought upon it by humans - it is still perhaps at the hands of the sculptors and stone masons that the rock reaches its zenith.

Even before sculpted, no two pieces of marble are identical because of the different levels of mineral deposits that determine the veining.

Much like the fingerprints on the hands of the sculptors who carve the marble, no two pieces can ever be the same.

Vintage Grey Italian Marble Hexagonal Coffee Table

Vintage Grey Italian Marble Hexagonal Coffee Table, AU

But it is not just this uniqueness that makes marble so praiseworthy. No other stone has the quality of lending itself so well to being carved and sculpted, whilst at the same time reflecting a deeply human quality; that of the appearance of skin. Marble’s mineral make up and fine grain lend it translucence as light enters the stone. Not only is it able to be polished highly, but also - in certain light – it glows.

Consequently, its surface is not hard and flat but possesses a depth pleasing to the eye. This translucence is known as subsurface scattering and also happens when light touches human skin. This is why, of course, we marvel at the skill of the sculptors who have created the great statues of history and the oftentimes-uncanny lifelike appearance of the statues themselves.

Pair of Vintage Marble Hand Carved Table Lamps

Pair of Vintage Marble Hand Carved Table Lamps, AU

Purity & Clarity of Marble

Just as gemstones and crystals are said to promote healing and restore energy, marble itself is believed to provide both self-control and clarity. Additionally, marble is said to bring about stability, not just, of course, in its physical form as a building material, but also as a conduit to a calm and soothed emotional psyche. Used by the Romans and up until the Italian renaissance as a symbol of purity and immortality and now today, by renowned sculptors and craftspeople the world over, there is only one thing about marble that refuses to change over the centuries; its enduring ability to enrich our lives, whichever form it takes on.

Vintage 1970s Italian Marble Tear Shaped Coffee Table

Vintage 1970s Italian Marble Tear Shaped Coffee Table, AU

Desirable Sustainability

Each one of the marble objects in AU’s collection has been hand carved by Italy’s stonemasons and all have been previously owned. But these vintage pieces are just as beautiful and striking – in both colour and design - as the day they were first hand chiselled from marble blocks; indeed, the fact that they have been loved by others previously makes them perhaps even more desirable. Aspiring, wherever possible, to recycle and reuse need not ever mean compromising on quality or level of artisanship. Though some of the objects may show slight signs of having been both pre-owned and pre-loved, it is these marks that make their sustainable credentials – in our eyes – even more desirable.

Vintage Pale Pink Marble Table Lamp

Vintage Pale Pink Marble Table Lamp, AU 

To see AU’s collection of vintage, hand carved marble tables and other objects, please click here. 

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Interior Design: Let there be light

Interior Design: Let there be light

Lighting is one of the most essential elements of good interior design, yet quite often it is only considered as an after thought or, even worse, overlooked altogether. It can be argued however, that lighting is just as important if not more so than any other design choice.   What good after all, is a beautiful colour palette or bespoke cabinetry if lighting is ineffective or impractical?

Vintage Mid Century Rattan Floor Lamp AU

Vintage Mid Century Rattan Floor Lamp AU

Lighting can be both Practical and Aesthetic

Light can, quite simply, transform a space. However, it’s not just a question of being able to see or not. Light has an obvious practical application, but it can also be used to great aesthetic effect.

1970s French Georgia Jacob Table Lamp in hard curved resin AU

1970s French Georgia Jacob Table Lamp in hard curved resin AU

Interior Lighting Should be Functional yet Layered

Lighting should neither be too harsh nor too dim, it should be designed with the function of a room in mind and, ideally, it should be layered. Not only does good lighting contribute to the sense of comfort in a space, but it also has the ability to make that space more atmospheric, even giving it a touch of the dramatic. Lighting should possess both versatility and adaptability. After all, light entering the room will change according to the time of day, the season and even the weather, so it makes sense to plan electrical lighting always keeping natural light and its movement through a space in mind.

Vintage Perspex and Brass Globe Lamp Angelo Lelli AU

Vintage Perspex and Brass Globe Lamp Angelo Lelli AU

Enhance Natural Light in an Interior Space

In recent years, the benefits natural lighting brings to our lives have been appreciated more and not just by architects and interior stylists. It is clear that natural light does something to our souls that electrical light fails to achieve, miraculous invention though it was. Consequently, many interiors are now designed to allow as much natural light as possible to enter a space whether that’s through the use of glazing or roof lights or simply positioning windows deliberately so that they are south or west facing.

Vintage hand carved mahogany curved floor lamp AU

Vintage hand carved mahogany curved floor lamp AU

Four types of Light in Interior Design

There are four main types of man-made lighting: ambient, task, accent and decorative. Ambient lighting provides the foundation for all the lighting in a room; it’s the primary light source and provides a first layer. Task lighting, in contrast, is focused on one area in particular, that where a certain task needs to be performed. Accent lighting has been specifically designed to draw attention to and highlight art or artefacts and decorative lighting, the fourth layer of light, does exactly as its name suggests; it adds the final decorative touches to an interior and complements the other layers of lighting. It can be eye-catching and flamboyant or muted and complementary.

Pair of vintage Italian brass desk lamps

Pair of vintage Italian brass desk lamps

Vintage Sustainability

AU Bespoke’s collection of lights and lamps is entirely vintage and therefore recycled. However, good design credentials and hand-craftsmanship lasts beyond even several life times, thus providing truly sustainable lighting solutions. Rewired using silk flex twist, each and every light or lamp - whether designed for a floor space, to hang from a ceiling or to sit on a table top or desk - has been fully PAT tested.

To browse AU’s collection, please click here.

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The Raw Beauty of Brutalism

The Raw Beauty of Brutalism

Not so long ago, Brutalism fell out of favour for being too brutal, too harsh and even too ‘socialist’. A style of architecture that originated in England in the 1950s, it lasted well into the 1970s and some even argue that elements of this stark, monolithic approach can even be seen in the work of Le Corbusier as early as the late 1940s. Once highly popular and seen as the answer to a pressing housing shortage, particularly after World War Two, Brutalism became the favoured style for many institutional buildings before becoming derided and even vilified for many years. Nowadays, however, it has finally come back in from the cold; you could even say that it’s enjoying something of a revival.

Vintage Brutalist Handcrafted Pottery Vase

Vintage Brutalist Handcrafted Pottery Vase with geometric design AU

Materials used in Brutalist Art

Construction, materials, and textures: these are the three components that Brutalism favours and consequently, the style probably brings to mind reinforced concrete, steel and modular elements in geometric designs. The institutional element of its use also means that the scale of the architecture renders it imposing, as larger, public buildings were often created out of gigantic blocks of concrete, size emphasised all the more by minimalist, impenetrable design.

Vintage Brutalist Vase

Vintage Brutalist Vase AU

Brutalism, surprisingly, doesn’t get its name from the ‘brutal’ appearance of its creations, but instead from the material without which it couldn’t exist: béton brut, raw concrete. Unfortunately, raw concrete does not stand the test of time well and its aesthetic can be compromised by damage and decay. It was partly as a result of this and also, a rather austere, cold nature that made so many turn their backs on the architecture. At present, Brutalism’s graphic nature has once again started to appeal to people; new projects have gained momentum and are underway. It’s been suggested that perhaps, in an uncertain world, people are once more embracing the solidity and uncompromising shapes of the style.

Brutalism has lent its name to much more than architecture. The term ‘Art brut’ – literally ‘raw art’ – was coined by the French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art such as graffiti, which is highly expressive, but conceived and made outside the usual academic tradition of fine art.

The ‘Art brut’ movement

The ‘Art brut’ movement postulated that not only could anything at all be used to create a work of art, whether that was rusty metal or a kitchen object, but also, that artists with no formal training whatsoever could and should still be recognised for their primitive talent and artistic insight. This included those whose endeavours had previously been dismissed, such as children, prisoners and even, the insane.   Essentially, ‘Art Brut’ gives prominence to the visual representation of emotions and feelings, expressed unhindered or constrained by rigid convention. And can anything be less brutal than the inclusivity of an art form that is only interested in the unrefined emotion of the creator and the materials they happen to have at hand rather than whether they have attended art school?

Many pieces of art, craftwork, furniture and ceramics produced during the twentieth century have been called ‘Brutalist’. Although there are no specific criteria for such a label, objects have been identified in this way, not only because of the roughness or coarseness of the material from which they were handcrafted, but also because of their functionality; their beauty growing directly as a result of daily use.

Vintage Brutalist Ceramic Hand Thrown Table Lamp

Vintage Brutalist Ceramic Hand Thrown Table Lamp AU

Most are one off pieces borne out of an intuitive and instinctive design process, purposefully lacking conspicuous aesthetics and more overt polish.  And it is a contrast inherent in the pieces - obviously finished, sometimes ostentatious, but seemingly roughly hewn and somewhat untamed - which makes them so captivating; it lends an authenticity that is unpredictable and therefore all the more desirable for its wild fearlessness.

To browse AU’s collection, please click here.

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Andre Cazenave: Luminary designer and sculptor

Andre Cazenave: Luminary designer and sculptor

It surely can’t be a coincidence that Andre Cazenave (1928 – 2003) designed his iconic moon rock stone lights during the decade mankind finally managed to take that giant leap and achieved the seemingly impossible task of putting two men on the moon? Now known predominantly for his luminous sculptures which date from that most amazing of years – 1969 - Andre Cazenave was one of the leading designers for Atelier A, a French boutique design label and store, based in Paris. As familiar as we now are with technological advances, it is perhaps hard for us to appreciate just how staggering the amount of industrial production that took place throughout the 19th and 20th centuries was only seventy years before man landed on the moon, achieving any kind of flight at all had seemed, at times, an impossible dream. Similarly, objects that had always been crafted by hand using age-old skills passed down carefully through generations could now be mass-produced with great speed and efficiency all over the world simply by flicking a switch.

Atelier A, though in no way against the progression of technological advancement, saw their remit as redressing the balance somewhat when it came to the utilitarianism resulting from the enormous levels of industrialisation. They therefore took everyday, practical objects and aspired to elevate them to design classics.

They also endeavoured to ensure that these objects remained accessible to everybody, even if, at first, they seemed luxurious. Cazenave’s own sense of purpose too was incredibly grounded despite the space travel of his age. Dedicated to design inspired by nature, he was especially interested in introducing organic pieces to contemporary interiors; natural shapes that succeeded in bringing the outside in, reconnecting people with nature, even when they were in the midst of their own up to date, modern homes.


Moon Rock Lamp by Andre Cazenave AU Bespoke



His light sculptures can be used anywhere, both inside and out. Designed and made in France, the moon rock lamps were hand crafted specifically to appear like real stones. Cast from fibreglass, they were coated with a multitude of fine stone imprints, a process also done by hand resulting in no two being exactly the same. The ambient light they emit is soothing; the lamps have an extremely calming effect and tactility hard to match.

Cazenave’s sculptures did not eschew industrial production, but in line with the ethos of Atelier A, they demonstrated the opportunities this type of production now afforded for an intersection with aesthetic and meaningful design. Distinctive and original, Cazenave’s lamps - designed in the era of space exploration - continue to remind us to be aware of the earth beneath our feet. Fusing two of the most important components of nature together, light and bedrock, this iconic design serves to be a continual reminder to stay conscious of the necessity and beauty of nature in an ever-changing, fast-paced technical world.

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Czech Mate: František Jirák 1913 – 1998

Czech Mate: František Jirák 1913 – 1998

Mid-century modern interior design

Born in Prague in 1913, František Jirák was a Czech architect and designer who studied at both the School of Master Joiners (Mistrovská škola stolarská) and the Special School of Interior Design and Architecture (Specialna skola pre vnutornu architekturu). Under the guidance and leadership of Jindřich Halabalou, one of the most celebrated and influential designers to emerge from the Czech Republic, Jirak spent eleven years working at the renowned United Arts & Crafts Factory, or United UP (Spojene UP zavody), in Brno.

Durability and Distinctiveness

It is for this period for that his contributions to design are most well known. United UP was one of the most influential companies in Czech history. Admired for the simplicity of its designs, but also the durability and the distinctiveness of the furniture they produced, the company put the Bauhaus philosophy at the very centre of every piece they produced and its designers always sought to combine fine art aesthetics with everyday function.

Physical Integrity

At United UP, there was also an unfaltering commitment to high quality, most especially as far as the physical integrity of the products was concerned. An attention to quality might seem at odds with the fact that the pieces were also marketed to the masses, but even so, metal and solid woods were always used. This and the simplistic, minimal style of the furniture are reasons why they are still proving so popular as collectors’ items today.

Vision and Interior Styling

It might be surprising to learn that it wasn’t the Swedes who first started the trend of setting out their stores as if they were fully furnished interiors, but United UP. They understood that their customers had an inherent need to visualise what the furniture could look like in their own homes and they set up their shop interiors accordingly.

Craftsmanship and carpentry

As for Jirák, in 1948 he left United UP in order to relocate to the Slovakian part of what was then Czechoslovakia. As an expert in furniture design, especially one who favoured wood, he became the Head of the Development Department in the Regional Directorate of Woodworking Companies. His skills as both a designer and a carpenter were highly valuable in an industry that was rapidly evolving. From the end of the 1960s up until his eventual retirement, he also worked closely as a product designer for a national company called the New House (Nový domov) in Spisska Nova Ves. It was during this time that Jirák designed the Lollipop chair and it is for this iconic piece of furniture that he is certainly best known today. Vintage František Jirák Lollipop chairs covered in vintage taupe sheepskin AU Bespoke Given this nickname because their flat shape was said to resemble a lollipop, the 22 – 19 chair was manufactured by Tatra Nábytok Pravenec in the former Czechoslovakia. The factory was known for exporting about 60% of its chair production, but it was decided that this particular model should be sold domestically. Made of curved plywood, the backrest and seat of this chair are connected to each other with screws that remain visible. Normally upholstered in thick fabric, the chairs legs are tapered in a pin shape. It should be noted that there is a slight variation on the 22-19 model: the 22-19-1. Manufactured instead by Západoslov Bratislava, this model had an additional upholstered seat cushion and a marginally different backrest. For various reasons, not much is known about Jirák compared to other mid-century modern designers. As a designer who lived behind the iron curtain it is his designs themselves more than any formal record that provide testament to his innovation, his creativity and his dedication to carpentry. And luckily for us, the lollipop chair lives on and not just in the Czech Republic; a sweet reminder of the extraordinary talent and craftsmanship of one of a number of esteemed mid-century modern Czech designers. Continue reading

Wool: natural, durable, sustainable.

Wool: natural, durable, sustainable.

"Never throw anything good away – real wool, pure silk. Put it away and wait for it to come back."

Helen Gurley Brown

Real wool is indeed ‘good’. In fact, it’s better than good; it’s exceptional and remarkable in many ways. It’s remarkable because, as a fabric, wool is functional, durable, incredibly warm and aesthetically appealing. And it’s exceptional, because its natural fibres are completely organic and biodegradable. Even if disposed of or discarded, wool simply releases its valuable nutrients back into the soil with no detrimental effects whatsoever. There is no reason, however, to throw wool away. It is, after all, widely known to be a material that can be employed for far longer and in many more ways than the majority of man-made fibres.

And not only can it be reused, but it also easily lends itself to being recycled and therefore ultimately, repurposed. At the end of its life, wool that is no longer fabric-worthy can be used to create solid, textile benches, acoustic textile tiles, fire-retardant mattress padding or car sound insulation. It doesn’t even matter if it is no longer fit for these innumerable purposes; it can still be degraded down into compost and used as rich fertiliser.

One thing is clear; wool should never end up in landfill. Buying predominately natural materials – including wool, but also silk, cotton and linen - would significantly reduce carbon emissions and decrease the amount of rubbish that is currently buried. In the U.K. alone, it is estimated that roughly 350, 000 tonnes of textile waste goes into landfill annually. It is a small consolation however, that if wool does end up where it shouldn’t, in a matter of months it will simply break back down into the carbon it first was when originally in plant form grazed upon by sheep.

Vintage Hungarian Linen Oversized Sac Cushion AU Bespoke

 

Of course, wool has been widely used and recycled for hundreds of years in various different ways. A cursory glance through the history books of any culture will demonstrate its importance, value and significance irrespective of time, place or people. Revered in Roman times, spinning and weaving was viewed as a sign of womanly virtue and very much appreciated and admired. Having come from a living animal, wool was believed to contain a spirit, an ‘animus’. Consequently, it was believed to have a beneficial relationship to the gods and linked to strength, health and life itself.

AU Limited Edition hand sewn recycled wool blanket

 


In Prato, a town in the Tuscan province of the same name, knowledge of how to turn wool and other used fabrics into new materials stretches back to the 12th Century and it has been this knowledge of how to use and reuse wool which has given their own, modern-day community renewed strength, health and life. The people of Prato have harnessed and finessed the skills of their ancestors and, as a direct result of economic need, used centuries-old expertise to turn traditional wool craft into a sustainable way of life that works in contemporary times. Not only do they recycle wool and other natural materials, but they have also developed ways of prolonging the life of all sorts of man-made fabrics, preventing them from being taken to landfill and reincarnating them into creations that have sustainability and good design as basic credentials.

 

AU Limited Edition hand sewn recycled wool blanket
AU Limited Edition hand sewn recycled wool blanket

 


Indeed, in a recent surge all across the world, most notably in Scandinavian countries, farmers are now once more taking up the trades of their grandparents. Instead of discarding the wool because they have lacked the means to scour it (essentially cleaning and removing the smell of the sheep), they are now establishing new, viable production lines and supply chains in order to avoid wastage and enable more people to profit more from its circular nature; the ‘animus’ is being truly reanimated.

 

Set of four vintage Danish chairs hand upholstered in recycled sheepskin AU Bespoke
Set of four vintage Danish chairs hand upholstered in recycled sheepskin
Wool’s aesthetic appeal, wide-ranging and beloved, comes second perhaps only to its practical and recyclable qualities. There is no doubt that when it comes to interior styling, wool is also in a class of its own. Able to be hung or draped or made into any pleasing shape in a multitude of colours, it possesses a versatility that is almost unmatched and a functionality that is certainly unrivalled. It is easy to understand why this durable and resilient material, which returns quietly to the earth after giving so much of itself, was honoured and admired by ancient cultures and is still held in such high regard today.
For AU’s hand sewn, vintage, recycled wool blankets, click here.
If you would like to learn more about the extraordinary work taking place in Prato, click on the link below: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-55267992
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Healing and restorative: crystals and interior styling

Healing and restorative: crystals and interior styling

What are crystals?

Clustering together deep in the earth’s crust, deposits of minerals form that most beautiful and rare of objects: a crystal. Layer upon layer of these deposits – left behind once water has evaporated – cling to each other in highly organised structures. In time, occasionally after a few days but most often over the course of thousands of years, these mineral deposits become crystals. The shape of a crystal mirrors the internal make-up of its atoms so no two are the same. This uniqueness is also partly due to the differences in temperature and chemical composition wherever it is they come into being. What colour a crystal becomes is determined by the arrangement of the crystal’s atoms as well as the way in which light interacts with them. Impurities in the atomic structure are a further cause of colouration, beauty arising from imperfections. This layering of mineral deposits and the formation of a crystal could be viewed as symbolic, providing as it does a stunning visual representation of the many different attributes crystals can bring to our living spaces. Feature image - Rare crystal muscovite cluster

Healing and restorative

Crystals are much more than just decorative, sculptural pieces. Fascinating to many because of their transformative origins and natural beauty, they are also known for their religious symbolism and the belief that their use can bring about harmony and peace. Placed in the correct spot, it is said that the right crystal can encourage and energise, cleanse and renew, or calm and relieve. Belief in the healing properties of crystals is not a recent, or even semi-recent, trend. For thousands of years crystals have been highly significant to many people, people who are themselves geographically, historically and culturally diverse: the Ancient Sumerians and the Ancient Greeks, the Chinese and the tribes of South America, are just a few examples. Many forms of medicine continue to avail themselves of the powers of crystals, with each crystal regarded as holding its own individual energy or power. Natural therapy practices advocate their use, believing that they can bring our own bodies into balance and unblock mental tensions or physical struggles. It is thought that the crystals’ vibrations interact with our own chakras – various focal points used in ancient meditative practices – aligning our bodies with our souls and thus restoring serenity and equilibrium.

 

Set of two agate crystal cylinders in grey tones AU Bespoke
Set of two agate crystal cylinders in grey tones AU

 

Natural, sustainable design

Nowadays, the vast majority of crystals are produced naturally but sustainably. Consequently, they are no longer mined, significantly reducing if not eradicating completely the environmental impact of obtaining them. Nevertheless, with their glittering aesthetic and infinitesimal arrangements, crystals still evoke a sense of wonder at just how miraculous and awe- inspiring nature is. Illuminating any space in which they find themselves, crystals refract light and add colour to an interior, be it traditional or contemporary.

Utterly unique, no two crystals will ever catch or reflect light in the same way. Indeed their tones and colours change not only as day fades to evening, but also throughout the seasons. Crystals provide texture contrasting beautifully with other materials, such as burnished wood or polished marble. This can be especially effective in a living space, which is pared down and minimal; a carefully placed crystal will lend a touch of the dramatic to a tonal, more neutral space. As varied as their formations, they can be both small and unobtrusive or chosen as a larger, sculptural statement.

 

Huge rare crystal golden healer cluster AU Bespoke
Huge rare crystal golden healer cluster AU Bespoke

 

Beauty and meaning

Chosen then because of their natural beauty or for deeper, personal meanings or indeed a combination of both, it becomes the case that the ancient practices of crystal healing intertwine with modern concepts of design. One thing is clear; a crystal’s visual impact is no less important than its healing properties and vice versa.

 


Set of two agate crystal cylinders in brown tones AU Bespoke

 

Restorative or brilliant, crystals elevate their surroundings with life-enhancing and affirming energy. Whether we strive for balance within ourselves or for our interiors, crystals can help us to replenish our reserves along the way. Meanwhile, their magnificence serves to remind us – as it has reminded our ancestors over millennia – just how miraculous both their and our creation truly is.

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Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose: Pojagi

Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose: Pojagi

An ancient artform Pojagi - an ancient form of Korean patchwork - is both decorative and functional. Although evidence suggests that it has been in use for up to two thousand years, the earliest surviving examples of this utilitarian yet exquisite art form date from the 12th Century. An integral part of the lives of every Korean irrespective of their economic class, Pojagi’s popularity remains today.

Repurposing and reusing Whatever their social rank or position, traditionally it was women who took old clothes or scraps of cloth left over from cutting out their traditional clothing and repurposed them into wrapping cloths. With nothing but remnants and offcuts, as well as a knack for improvisation, these women – forced to be frugal and prudent with what they had – turned their thriftiness into a highly creative activity. They ended up with something both highly practical and beautiful out of what would otherwise have been discarded.

Influence and style A utilitarian, working class art form Pojagi might have been, but its influence was still seen in the upper echelons of Korean society. Indeed, it was so admired that the Royal Court used it as a means of adornment and for ceremonial use. Each stratum of Korean life had a distinct style when it came to Pojagi and this was mainly obvious through colour. Silks in vivid reds, pinks and purples were commissioned specially for royalty and the material was often also hand painted with intricate patterns. The cloths of the common people were far more pared down and natural in colour. However exceptional the pieces of the Royal Court remain, it could well be the art of the working class, aligning necessity with creativity, that is perhaps most praiseworthy.

 

Textiles inspired by Pojagi AU Bespoke

Textiles inspired by Pojagi AU Bespoke

 

Improvisation and artistry Colour then, had its station, but the method by which the scraps of cloth were stitched together was universal. Here the maker’s own artistic tastes and skills could come to the fore and society’s dictates did not have to be considered. Whether patterns were balanced or random, the creator of the cloth, whoever they were, had the autonomy to work expressively and individually in an improvisational manner. Hand stitched with contrasting thread, Pojagi cloths were seamed ‘flat felled’ meaning that any raw edge was enclosed and finished leaving no wrong side. To give someone a present wrapped in Pojagi showed great respect; each individual stitch was viewed as a prayer of goodwill towards the recipient. Aesthetically pleasing, Pojagi was nevertheless created to have many practical uses during everyday life; it covered, wrapped, stored and carried objects. Sometimes, it was even used to deliver marriage proposals and protect sacred writings. Even today, it is believed that the Korean parliament transports documents in this historic art form.

 

Textiles inspired by Pojagi
Textiles inspired by Pojagi

 

Interior styling: reusing, recycling and repurposing It is incredible how so much of our interior’s inspiration dates back thousands of years to ancient craftspeople from all over the globe. Innovative solutions are at our fingertips if we take the time to study history, both broadening our perspectives and establishing connections. To this end, inspired by the ancient Korean art form of Pojagi and marrying it with AU’s own ideals, where the thread of sustainability runs through every facet of our business, we have created blankets and floor cushions from the remnants of our upholstery, ensuring that absolutely nothing goes to waste and what is created, is completely practical and truly beautiful.

 

 

Cushions inspired by Pojagi AU Bespoke
Cushions inspired by Pojagi AU Bespoke

 

To see AU’s collection of Pojagi inspired textiles, please click here.

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Travertine Dream

Travertine Dream

Among AU’s carefully sourced collection of tables, there are those carved from marble and also, travertine. At first glance, the differences in the two stones may be barely discernible or even, noteworthy. But what exactly is travertine? How does it differ from marble and are we justified in thinking it deserves equal standing in our interior spaces?

 

What is travertine?

Being both natural and a type of limestone, travertine – just like marble - is a terrestrial, sedimentary rock. The key difference in the stones, however, is their formation. Although both come about as a result of limestone being placed under enormously high pressures and temperatures, travertine’s metamorphosis only takes place in geo-thermally heated springs or caves. A product of the precipitating deposits arising from carbonate minerals in ground and surface waters, travertine can be recognised by its honeycomb structure, the holes of which are due to carbon dioxide evasion during its seemingly alchemical creation.

 

Italian travertine

Renowned for viewing as artisanship those tasks often considered elsewhere in the world as merely rough, manual labour, Italy has long perfected the exquisite craftsmanship necessary to work with travertine and the unrivalled ability to transform it into elegant, sophisticated pieces of art. Thousands of years ago, the Romans used it in their general construction and it can still be admired in many famous monuments today, the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square in Rome being one such well-known example.

 

Cream Travertine Pyramid Coffee Table

This combination of a centuries-old legacy and revered workmanship means that still today, travertine of the very best quality originates from Italy. Indeed, until the 1980s, the country’s quarries were known as being the only real source for the stone. These days, it is possible to obtain travertine from all over the world; Turkey, Iran and Mexico are just a few of the countries that export it. Although much of this travertine is also remarkable, unlike marble, it is not sold from the quarry out of which it was mined, so it can be difficult to ascertain its actual quality before setting eyes on it. Consequently, obtaining Italian travertine – always consistently exceptional - has become even costlier than buying marble.

Vintage 1970's Italian Travertine Console
Vintage 1970's Italian Travertine Console

Interior Styling and travertine

Coming as it does in a multitude of calm, muted shades including ivory, cream and beige, travertine provides interior stylists with a palette full of true neutrals. But, depending on the amount of iron or other organic impurities found in the original limestone, travertine can also take on many hues ranging from walnut through to gold and a myriad of purples, oranges and reds.

 

VINTAGE 1970’S ITALIAN TRAVERTINE LEAF SHAPED COFFEE TABLE
Italian Travertine Leaf Shaped Coffee Table

Just like marble, travertine is worthy of that rare accolade of being both highly aesthetic and undeniably functional. Long beloved in interiors because of this simultaneous beauty and versatility, the stone is frequently employed as flooring and wall tiles or simply admired as a sculptural object in its own right. Able to be polished to a smooth finish or honed to be matte, it can even be chiselled or brushed so as to be uneven or rough and all without any of its natural magnificence being diminished.

Providing instant texture whilst remaining a true neutral, its elegance can be structured yet abidingly simple. With their timeless quality and an appeal that transcends interior design trends both travertine and marble have the ability to transform and unite in equal measure. Being natural, organic stones means that each and every piece is unique. It is futile to compare the two: far better to delight in using both. Browse through AU’s collection of travertine and marble tables here.

 

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